The 1852 Fight at the Tobacco Barn
Part of the Hill-Evans Feud
by Sandra Norris
I read three accounts of the Hill-Evans feud and found them all to be quite informative on life and attitudes in mid-1800's Garrard County. The three accounts were: The Hill-Evans Feud of Garrard County, Kentucky by Forrest Calico (unpublished), The Hill, Evans and Murphy Feud by J. J. Thompson - published 1854 and A Garrard County Tragedy by Phyllis Brown - published 2000.
The feud had been going on for several years before this fight but this was the most murderous day with five men killed and several others wounded. John Sellars and William Chrisman had aligned themselves with Dr. Hezekiah Evans and the Hills’ leader was Dr. Oliver P. Hill. No one knows the real cause of the feud which may be as simple as jealousy between two doctors. My interest lies in the fact that I had two relatives that married into both sides. James Simpson, my 3rd great-uncle married Mary Jane Hill, daughter of Isaiah Hill and William Tom Evans, son of Dr. Evans, married Martha Jane Bogie who was the daughter of my 2nd great-aunt, Eliza Ray, who was the daughter of Michael Ray and Patsy Collier, my 3rd great-grandparents.
The accounts by Mr. Calico and Mr. Thompson agree that the fight at the tobacco barn was started by the Hill clan and led by Dr. O. P. Hill. The Hills were moving the John Brown household from Nina to one of their places near Scotts Fork. They had passed the barn earlier that morning where John Sellars and William Chrisman were preparing their crop for market. Both authors stated that Sellars and Chrisman had decided to leave the county and had asked for time to get their tobacco to market. Mr. Calico does say that he did not know whether this part of the story was true or not, but Mr. Thompson says it was true. Note that Mr. Thompson although related to the Hills (through the Pollards) was clearly biased toward the Evans side.
Their two accounts agree that later in the day when the Hills returned from Teatersville , after a bout of drinking at a tavern owned by William Teater, they opened fire on the tobacco barn. At this time, there were four men in the barn; John Sellars, James Alverson (uncle of John Sellars), Sam Sellars (brother of John Sellars), and William Chrisman. Sam and James had gone to the barn to warn the others of the approach of the Hills and asked them to leave. Either they did not have time to leave the barn or refused to leave on point of honor. I think it was probably the latter as John Sellars was a veteran of the Mexican War and, by all accounts, a brave man.
Both Calico and Thompson agree that the Hills fired upon the men and shot Chrisman in the bowels effectively ending his participation. Alverson was shot in the wrist and both Alverson and Sam Sellars fled the fight. Mr. Calico says that both men were unarmed which I find somewhat hard to believe as both men knew there might be a fight and it seemed to be common custom to be armed. John Sellars then shot and killed both Russ and Fred Hill. Sellars “then ran a race after Isaiah Hill around a tobacco hogshead and finally succeeded in killing him”. Now it was the turn of John Sellars to face death and his end was particularily gruesome. Samuel Hill, son of Isaiah, draws his gun and shoots at Sellars and Sellars ran. John Brown shoots Sellars in the back, knocking him down to the ground. At which time, Bill Hill runs up and shoots him six times in the head. As if that wasn’t enough, John Brown stabs him in the chest, “mutilating him horribly”.
Bill Hill and the others then attacked the badly wounded Chrisman. The accounts differ at this point, where Calico says Fred Hill was one of the first killed by Sellars, Thompson says Fred Hill and not Bill Hill ran to finish off Chrisman. Both accounts say that Chrisman fired and knocked Hill down. Then Chrisman was shot at such close range his clothes were set on fire and the attackers hacked his body to pieces. Thus ends the fight but not the war.
Now to the book A Garrard County Tragedy by Phyllis Brown who is a Hill descendant. This book is a romanticized portrayal of Isaiah Hill and his family and must be taken that way. The author has Isaiah deciding to move away from Garrard to Washington County on the very day of the fight and then he starts out unarmed to help move Brown saying, “Even as ornery as Hezekiah Evans is, I doubt he would fire upon women and children.” His brother, Russell, conveniently gives guns to Isaiah and Isaiah’s son, Jesse. (I can’t imagine why Isaiah and Jesse don’t have their own guns.) That afternoon when approaching the barn, Russell Hill is shot from his horse so the author departs from the other two accounts by having Sellars and Chrisman become the aggressors. Ms. Brown also leaves out the drinking earlier at Teatersville and uses literary license by having four men attack a much larger party (Thompson says Hill party consisted of twenty men which is probably a stretch but the Hill party was larger). The book is well worth reading as it shows the effect of all this killing on women and children who lose their main breadwinner.
The larger question is the inability of the law to stop the attacks on both sides. No one from either side was convicted although indictments were handed down and a “trial” took place.
There are two unexplained killings that I believe were connected to the feud. Dr. Hezekiah Evans was killed October 9, 1862 and the blame was placed on the Confederate troops that were withdrawing from Perryville. This seems like a convenient coincidence to me. In December of 1864, Green Slaughter was indicted for the murder of Ab Pollard whose sister was the mother of Dr. O. P. Hill. Is it possible that Dr. Evans’ murder was believed to be instigated by Ab Pollard and then Pollard was killed by Slaughter in retaliation? Green Slaughter’ stepmother was Martha Brim whose brother, James, had sided with Dr. Evans. The questions continue.